Denton: Turk Essential to Magic's Rhythm

By John Denton
March 4, 2012

ORLANDO – Statistics can sometimes be massaged and manipulated to make any point imaginable, but any way you look at the numbers, this fact is undeniable: When Hedo Turkoglu plays well the Orlando Magic usually follow suit. When he doesn’t, well, not so much.

And now for the aforementioned numbers: When Turkoglu scores at least 14 points the Magic are 14-0 this season. When he fails to reach double figures in scoring Orlando is an underwhelming 2-7. In the Magic’s 24 wins, Turkoglu is averaging 14 points, 4.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor and 39.7 percent from 3-point range. Conversely, in the 14 losses the veteran small forward is averaging just 7.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 31.8 percent from the floor and 31.2 percent from 3-point range.

Turkuglu is quick to dismiss the notion that much of the Magic’s success rides on his shoulders, but even he admits that his role is an extra important one because he is expected to make plays for others. Franchise center Dwight Howard and Jason Richardson can be dynamic scorers, but they often need an aggressive, play-making Turkoglu to set them up for looks. So when Turkoglu is in attack mode, probing the defense with drives to the hoop and distributing the ball to open shooters, the Magic usually play their best basketball.

``It’s not just me. We all have to play good for us to do well. I’m a part of this team,’’ Turkoglu said of the success of the Magic (24-14) have when he plays well. ``It’s my goal to go out and play hard every night and help us be in a better situation and win some games. But if I’m great and the other guys aren’t good it’s not going to matter. So it’s not just on one guy.’’

Fresh off a dazzling 16-point, nine-assist night in the Magic’s win over Milwaukee, Turkoglu hopes to put together a second consecutive solid effort Monday night in Toronto. But Turkoglu will likely have to do so in the specter of boobirds and taunts from a Toronto fanbase that still remembers his one particularly up-and-down 2009-10 season with the Raptors. He left the Magic in 2009 to sign a five-year, $50 million free agent deal with the Raptors, but was highly unhappy there and requested a trade out of Canada.

Turkoglu made the trip back to Toronto for the first time last season and was booed lustily. He figures the reaction will be similar this time around, but he vows it will have no affect on his performance either way.

``I still have friends there and it will be good to see them, but it’s just part of life that some people like you and some people don’t,’’ Turkoglu said. ``I won’t let that affect my game at all. I’ll say hi to the people and if they boo I’ll move on. If they cheer I’ll say thank you. I’ll focus on my game and do my best.’’

Turkoglu’s best can be really good what with his ability to use his size and skill level to carve up defenses from time to time. And throughout his two stints with the Magic, Turkoglu has usually done his best work in the fourth quarter of games by hitting key shots or making key assists to teammates for big buckets.

But the issue is getting Turkoglu to play effectively on a more consistent basis. In his 12th NBA season and two weeks away from his 31st birthday, Turkoglu doesn’t quite have the same bounce in his legs as he did in 2009 when he helped lead the Magic to the NBA Finals.

Using a new diet and exercise regiment, Turkoglu has slimmed down and kept himself in tremendous shape. Still, back-to-back sets of games and stretches of four games in five nights tend to give him trouble from time to time.

The Magic’s four-game, five-day roadtrip just before the NBA All-Star Game was a classic example of how Turkoglu’s play is often a barometer of the Magic’s success or failure. In wins against Milwaukee and New Jersey, Turkoglu averaged 11.5 points on 45 percent shooting. In losses to Miami and Atlanta, he averaged just 6.0 points on 20 percent shooting.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy feels that much of Turkoglu’s inconsistency boils down to him having a high level of energy and the right mental focus. When both are good, so is Turkolgu’s performance. When they are lacking, the turnovers and questionable shots usually pile up, Van Gundy said.

``I think with him a lot of it is mental. It’s the focus that he brings to the game,’’ Van Gundy said. ``When he gets lazy physically and mentally, he’s not going to play well. But when he’s into the game he’s a very good player. He should be able to do that on a consistent basis.’’

While the condensed NBA season has been a challenge to many players in the league, Turkoglu seems to have handled the rugged schedule quite well. When the Magic have played on back-to-back nights, he’s averaged a solid 12.8 points on 42.5 percent shooting and he’s put up 10.7 points a game on 41 percent shooting when playing on one night’s rest.

Van Gundy sees no reason why Turkoglu’s game should be so wildly inconsistent just because he’s on the wrong side of 30 years old in NBA circles.

``He should be a guy who ages well, in my opinion, because his game wasn’t ever built on an overwhelming athleticism, or jumping over the top of people and dunking or blowing by people with quickness,’’ Van Gundy said. ``His game has always been built on a great combination of size and skill. That should age well.’’

Over the next four days, the Magic play in Toronto (Monday), Charlotte (Tuesday) and Chicago (Thursday). The three games in four days, combined with the travel issues, will undoubtedly tax the team and challenge its ability to play with great energy.

Turkoglu doesn’t run from the fact that much of the play-making responsibilities for the Magic are in his hands. He knows if the Magic are going to remain in the upper echelon of the NBA – they have the third-most wins in the East and the fifth-most in the NBA – they must play with more consistency from night to night.

``Me and (point guard) Jameer (Nelson) have to set the tone from the beginning because we’re making a lot of plays with the pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick plays,’’ Turkoglu said. ``So we’re needed to be more consistent because the other guys are relying on us to make plays. I have to play well every night, and I’m trying to do that every night I step on the court.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Magic and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.





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